House-building rates will rise 250% in South Cambridgeshire under Local Plan, warns Anthony Browne MP
The war of words over the 20-year housing blueprint for the region showed no sign of abating this week, as Conservative MP Anthony Browne accused Liberal Democrats of planning to accelerate house-building rates in South Cambridgeshire by a factor of two and a half.
He also voiced anger that 71 per cent of the homes earmarked in the first proposals for the Greater Cambridge Local Plan would fall in South Cambridgeshire, which he represents, rather than the city.
The Tory MP accused the Liberal Democrat-run administration at the district council of “throwing its residents under a bulldozer”.
But the Lib Dems responded furiously, accusing the MP of forgetting the “incompetence” of the council’s previous Tory rulers.
Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council are working together on the Greater Cambridge Local Plan, which will guide housing and commercial development in the area until 2041.
Some 48,794 homes are suggested in the first proposals for the plan, which are being debated by councillors before going out to public consultation in November.
Most of these homes are already earmarked for development under the previous Local Plan, which was initially developed when Conservatives were in control at South Cambridgeshire District Council, and finalised after the Lib Dems won power from them in 2018.
Major new developments put forward in the plan include thousands of homes at North West Cambridge and on what is currently Cambridge Airport. Meanwhile, developments already in the pipeline for Waterbeach, Eddington, Darwin Green, Cambourne, Cherry Hinton and Northstowe make up the bulk of the housing allocation.
Mr Browne said an average of 669 new homes were built annually between 2011 and 2017 under the previous administration, but the proposals suggested accelerating this to an average of 1,656 new flats and houses in South Cambs every year until 2041 – 2.5 times as many.
“The tripling of the pace of housebuilding represents a developer’s dream, but a nightmare for residents,” he said. “People in South Cambs already feel strongly there has been too much development in recent years, but this is just the beginning, with South Cambs now deciding to unleash the development floodgates beyond the wildest fears of residents.
“The district council is not just deciding to concrete over South Cambs, but it is effectively throwing its residents under a bulldozer- almost all the housebuilding will be in South Cambs rather than Cambridge City.
“They are clearly determined to turn a rural area into an urban area, but don’t dare admit to their voters that is what they are doing. They didn’t even mention the number of houses they are planning to build in their press release.
“The 49,000 new households they want to build almost equals the size of Cambridge City. In effect, this is a political decision to double the size of Cambridge in the next 20 years – but almost all the new development will be in the rural South Cambs.
“Residents are already living with more than their fair share of new development, including three new towns. They are paying the price, sitting on congested roads watching our countryside drown in concrete as our chalk streams run dry.
“The council itself has admitted the demand for water will cause unacceptable damage to the environment, but it is recklessly pushing ahead anyway.”
The number of homes required for the region was determined by examining factors such as employment growth, which is exceptionally high in the region. Council planners have said they are obliged to take such factors into account and failing to build sufficient homes in the area would mean more people living further from their workplaces, worsening congestion.
But Mr Browne said the council should stick to standard formulas for housebuilding targets.
“The worst insult for residents is that there is no need for this,” he said. “The council has decided to build 53 per cent more houses than even the government thinks is needed, and actually the Council could have argued it should build less than even that to protect the environment and quality of life.”
“Instead of focusing on their housebuilding obsession, this district council needs a plan that makes life better for those residents, not worse. I challenge them to truly deliver, building only to the far lower government targets while fixing our infrastructure and saving our waterways.”
Ian Sollom, a Liberal Democrat district councillor who stood against Mr Browne at the last General Election, told the Cambridge Independent: “It’s hard to believe that Anthony Browne would celebrate the gross incompetence of the previous Conservative administration in South Cambridgeshire – an administration that failed to build enough homes, losing control over planning decisions and leading to the rampant speculative development that did real damage to our rural communities, as thousands of houses were given planning permission in inappropriate locations.
“Since taking control of the district council in 2018 the Lib Dems have ended that very real nightmare for residents, and Anthony Browne should be clear with residents if he is proposing a return to those dark days.
“All but 384 homes in the proposals are on sites identified in the current Local Plan – sites brought forward by the Conservatives, who pushed for new towns like Northstowe and Cambourne. It is frankly insulting to the people who have chosen to make these places their home to describe them as simply masses of concrete - they are vibrant new communities that the Lib Dems will continue to support.
“But the proposals are clear that we won’t build out the plans if the water problems associated with the over-abstraction of the aquifer aren’t solved fast. Those problems are already with us, and the government needs to step up and help the industry sort it out. Sadly, Anthony seems to be more interested in petty political games than getting the environment minister to act.”